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Mentoring Women Students In Engineering: Lessons Learned From The Sociology Of Gender

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



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Page Numbers

6.716.1 - 6.716.8



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Naomi Chesler

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Mark Chesler

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Session 3592

Mentoring Women Students in Engineering: Lessons Learned from the Sociology of Gender

Naomi C. Chesler, Mark A. Chesler

University of Vermont/University of Michigan


Women in engineering who seek mentoring relationships face a number of special challenges and obstacles. Interpersonally- and institutionally-generated gender dynamics make the construction and maintenance of mentoring relationships especially difficult. Mentoring of both female and male students can be enhanced by recognizing the different cultural styles of women and men, the needs of women (and many men) for supportive and nurturing relationships in the midst of a highly competitive educational system. Mentoring strategies that fit more readily with a female cultural worldview, according to well-accepted theories on the sociology of gender, are peer-, multiple- and collective mentorships. Mentoring of women must also acknowledge the socially-constructed dynamics of gender that affect cross-gender relationships and respond to the special ways in which women must often balance career and family relationships. Successful mentoring of women rests on, and can help create, a caring community in which women (and men) have equal access to all educational resources including those relevant to their psychosocial as well as technical growth and success.

I. Introduction

In 1995, women constituted 46 % of the U.S. labor force, but only 22 % of the scientists and engineers.1 Male scientists and engineers were more likely than women to earn a higher salary, to be employed full time and to be employed in their field of highest degree1 . In 1998, women graduates of engineering programs represented just 18.6 % of the undergraduate, 20.3 % of the masters and 12.3 % of the doctoral degrees in the U.S.2 Mentoring women undergraduate students may be a promising strategy for improving their presence, retention and advancement in engineering disciplines. Indeed, quantitative studies on mentor functions and outcomes in organizations have shown that both formal and informal mentoring relationships are effective in promoting protégé advancement and compensation. 3,4

Mentoring is traditionally a developmental relationship in which an experienced person provides support to a less experienced person. In return, the mentor gains personal satisfaction, respect from colleagues for successfully developing the younger talent, and in the best case grows intellectually as well. Mentoring has multiple aspects and functions, and has variously been described as fulfilling either or both the technical and psychosocial needs of the less experienced person. Examples of the technical knowledge-based or career development issues include how to solve a particular technical problem, continue intellectual growth, approach a new internship, job or course, develop a syllabus or field project, prepare a research proposal, balance work overloads, present an appeal to a faculty member or department chair, ask for an assignment change, learn the “unwritten rules” of the organization (e.g., dress codes, address titles, social

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Chesler, N., & Chesler, M. (2001, June), Mentoring Women Students In Engineering: Lessons Learned From The Sociology Of Gender Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9550

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